Stolen Summer by S.A. Meade
August 29, 2011
Today, Ryan from Wordsmithonia is guest reviewing! I’ll let him explain how this came to be.
I guess in order to understand why Mandi asked if I would be interested in reviewing this book, I have to give you some back story. A while ago a blogger friend had decided to dedicate an entire month to m/m fiction, most of which was written by women. Now as a gay man, I had only recently realized there was even such a thing, let alone that a lot of women enjoyed reading it as well. We were discussing it on twitter and she asked if I would be willing to write a guest post about my initial reaction to the entire concept. On that post, Mandi had commented that if I ever tried to read a m/m story, written by a woman, she would like to have me do a guest review on her blog as well. Fast forward to late last month when I saw Stolen Summer by S.A. Meade mentioned on the blog. I commented saying that I may actually be willing to read it, Mandi sent me an email calling my bluff. I really had no choice in the matter anymore, I agreed to review it, not without some trepidation. I’m pleased to report that one I got started on it, I had to tear myself away.
Evan Harrison is an embedded reporter with an military unit in Afghanistan. He has the perfect life, or so he thinks. He gets to travel around the world, covering all the hot spots and conflicts. He has a girlfriend back home, though he can’t help but think things are needing to end between them. Half the time he’s thinking about his best friend, Colin Williams. Colin is a literature professor who can never seem to keep his hands to himself, men or women are fair game. Evan has been thinking maybe he thinks of Colin as more than a friend, and when he gets back home and finds out that Colin is really in love with him, Evan couldn’t be happier.
Now here is where I had my first issue with the book. Evan accepts the situation and his own feelings too easily. There is no real conflict or internal struggle, both of which I would expect in someone who is having to reevaluate their entire life I ended up loving them together, so I was able to get past it, but I think the story would have been richer for just a bit more attention to the idea that something like this isn’t that easy. Most people, especially men, can not just throw everything they thought they knew about themselves out the window and start all over.
Once they are together, boy do they make up for missed opportunities. I think they have sex more than they eat, sleep, or go to work. Not that I’m complaining though, passionate sex between two overly hot men is never something to complain about. They do it often, and they do it well. At this point in the book, I was thinking "Okay, the sex is hot, but what the hell else are they going to do?", I was wanting something else to happen to them. When Evan follows a lead back to some gun runners in Pakistan, gun runners who are responsible for almost getting him killed the last time he was in Afghanistan, things really start to get interesting.
Once there Evan is kidnapped and held for months on end, he didn’t know if he was going to die the next day or live to see home again. The only thing that kept him mentally strong enough to handle his situation was the picture he managed to hold onto of Colin. Once Evan is rescued and brought back home, their relationship dynamic changes and we get to see a couple work through issues that I’m not sure most of us could deal with. Evan is suffering a massive case of PTSD and it’s affecting everything around him. He has panic attacks in the grocery store, his meds are killing any desire he has for sex (and for a relationship that is superficially based on sex, that’s not a good thing), and he is checking out of life. Colin is ready to leave and the only thing that can save Evan is the very thing that may eventually send Colin out the door for good. Evan takes one last assignment, overseas yet again, something Colin can’t accept. He’s so terrified of losing Evan, for good this time, that he would rather end it now. So that’s what he does, Evan goes to cover another dangerous location, Colintells him goodbye. Since this is a romance book, you already know that they work it out in the end, and cap it off with even more hot sex.
When it’s all said and done, I’m still not sure how much I actually liked this book. I really enjoyed getting to know Evan and Colin, and I loved them as a couple. What I’m not so sure about is how I feel about the authenticity of it all. Now this is where my lack of romance book knowledge may come into play, I am an amateur after all. Despite what I said about liking them as a couple, it just never felt real to me. There was something, deep in the background, artificial about it all. It stopped me from buying into it with everything in me. In may simply be chalked up to it’s story about romance, fantasy. Fantasy isn’t supposed to be real, it’s not supposed to feel real. Or it may just be the fact that I’m not completely sold on the idea of a female writer really being able to write from a gay male perspective. I’m getting closer than I was before, I’m just not over that line yet.
Top2Bottom Reviews – 5/5
Great review Ryan! This is a new author to me so I wasn’t sure what “type” of book this would be. I really enjoyed your views on it.
I hope you try another one :)
Thank you! I had a lot of fun reading this, especially since it’s my first ebook too. I at least have my eyes open and am more open to reading more.
This is a very interesting review. I haven’t read this book but I wonder if Evan had more problems dealing with the PTSD than his sexuality, it seems that the main conflict comes from that instead of him dealing with his feelings. The fact that he doesn’t seem to struggle with being gay is an issue that I keep finding in m/m romances, it can’t be that easy, that’s a process that takes years and involves not only you but everyone around you, so when I read a book where everything magically gets resolved I’m annoyed because it’s unrealistic.
Unlike you, I’m a longtime fan of romance novels, but just like you I want them to be realistic. Fantasy and fiction are not the same, so if I’m reading a contemporary romance I want the plot and characters to be as real as possible so I can connect and relate to them or to their issues and the way they deal with it.
I also loved your comment about female authors not being able to really write from a male perspective, and obviously I won’t ever be able to really tell if they get it right, but this is an issue that I have always wondered about, especially when it comes to m/m. I always feel like women read more m/m romances than men and that there are more female m/m authors than male ones (I could be completely wrong about this though). I had the opportunity to interview Marie Sexton on my blog and I asked her about why women seem so into m/m romances and she basically said that it could be because they don’t like female heroines, because they are exploring their sexual preferences, or because they just find it hot (basically there are as many reasons as readers). I think this is a topic that deserves exploring because it’s very interesting and I’m happy to see a different take on the genre by a different type of reader.
I’m leaving before this becomes the longest comment ever (I think it’s too late for that).
Fantastic review Ryan!
Thank you Brie, and your comment was wonderful. If you want to say more, please come back and do so.
I think my whole issue with a female author writing a m/m book is that sometimes it seems like it plays on stereotypes a bit more than a book written by a gay male would. I could be compltely wrong by that, and after reading Stolen Summer I’m at least willing to explore the idea a bit more.
A M/M review from a real life gay man! Yes! Can Ryan pop in for more in the future? Great job Ryan and I loved your perspective on this book.
I’m blushing a little! Thanks for your comment. I’m always open to reading another one, so we will see!
Fantastic review Ryan; very thought provoking. I’m new to the m/m romance genre and most of the books I’ve read have been written by a female author. I’ve often wondered about the very things you question in your review. I enjoyed seeing your perspective. It would be interesting to see you review book written by a male author! Maybe one day! :)
Yes – I thought of Sean Kennedy. LOVE his stuff.
And I’d love his take on a book like Strawberries For Dessert too!
Thank you! I’m starting to think I should have done this a long time ago. I actually read a lot of “guylit” gay books. Especially by authors like Michael Thomas Ford and Timothy James Beck. I would be open to reading a more standara romance book. So we will see.
Sophia (FV) says
Great review Ryan. Nice to read your perspective on an m/m romance. It seems this genre is dominated by women–readers and writers—at least in the book blogging community. Glad you enjoyed it.
Thank you! I actuaylly enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but not sold on the idea yet. I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.
I enjoyed reading your perspective on this one, Ryan. I think no matter the sexual orientation a lot of readers often wonder if a man could write a great sex scene or romantic story. I’ve been surprised more than once in my life and have read some great romance books written by men that felt truly authentic. With that being said I wonder if we went into each story blind of sex and orientation what we would truly think? And that is why having your perspective on this title is so important! I would have to read m/m written by a man and then one written by a woman and decide from there :)
Thanks Staci! As far as this book goes, I think I would still have the same hesitations if it had been written by a man. I just don’t think the issues I had with it would have been there had it been written by a gay man. Now I could forsee having other issues, like way too much sex not enough story for me. After all, us guys like sex. I don’t read a lot of romance novels, when I do read them, it tends to be books that I don’t think would fall into the romance section of a bookstore. I don’t know, as of know, I’m willing to read more of it as I starting to see the potential of it all. If any of that just made sense.
Stephanie D. says
That would have been a rich area to explore – Evan’s struggle and inner conflict with moving from a heterosexual relationship to a homosexual one. But I suppose that might be too complex for a romance book. Too bad. At least there’s plenty of sex and an HEA!
I so agree. I would have loved to see more of it, as it was, it just happened to fast for me. If I suddenly found myself in love with a woman after all this time, I would have issues with it. It was a fun read for me though, especially the sex parts.
Mary G says
What a terrific post! I admit to having a bias when reading romance. I prefer female writers except for M/M books & then it doesn’t matter. My faves are written by both. I’ve read gritty, hot books written by men – Hot Head by Damon Suede and by women – Resistance by L.M. Turner and Devlin & Garrick by Cameron Dane. But wait, I’m assuming Cameron is a she by her neat handwriting on the envelope bearing the bookmarks he/she sent me lol.
This brings me to my observation.
The first M/M I read was by J.L. Langley – thought it was a guy (didn’t matter). I started looking for more M/M & I saw a lot of initials, which annoy me when looking for books as book sites are not consistent – is it JL, J L or J.L. for example. The other thing I noticed was how many M/M authors have gender neutral names – Cameron, Sean, Chris, Shawn. They may very well be their real names but a reader will not know their gender just shopping for books without checking out the author’s web-site. It feels like the search for Pat’s identity on SNL.
I don’t care who writes M/M but possibly the female authors that use initials or gender neutral names know that there may be people who would be biased against reading M/M written by a female. As for why I love M/M – I’ve always been fascinated by the male POV in romances & of course, the penis. With M/M I get double the dose.
Thank you! I was going to say that I don’t think I have a bias against female authors writing m/m, but I had to stop myself. Maybe I do, though after reading Stolen Summer, I think it’s softened a bit. For me, the issues I had with this book (small as they were) I dont’ think they would have been there in a book written by a gay man. I could be wrong, it may just be the genre. Either way, I’m wore than willing to keep reading on.
Lucy V Morgan says
This is fascinating, Ryan. Thank you.
I’ve often wondered what a gay man would make of the m/m genre, since it is predominantly written by women, for women (though I think Josh Lanyon writes it, and it’d be interesting to see if you feel the same way about his stuff).
Truthfully, I have the same feelings you described about authenticity with a lot of romance novels, regardless of the couples’ sexuality. So for me, I’d chalk it up to a book that doesn’t really work for you. I know I find a lot of the romance genre to be prescriptive and because you can predict what will happen–they’ll get together, break up, make up, HEA–of course it doesn’t feel real. It takes a good writer to make you forget about this and invest in a book.
Anyway, go forth and review some Alan Hollinghurst. He’s a dude writing about other dudes. The Spell is particularly good.
Thanks again :)
Thanks Lucy, I will check him out.
Great review Ryan, so fun to see a man’s perspective on a book like this :) I am no expert either, I have only read one ;)
Thanks Blodeuedd! I’m really thinking I’ll at least read one or two more, even if it’s just for the sex scenes.
I really am curious to see if it’s just the genre (romance) I’m reacting too, or if it is the female/male author issue.
A blogger friend? Who could that be? ;)
If you’re *still* not sold on the idea of a woman writing m/m romance, I have the perfect author for you to try, Ryan. :D
I do hold you a little responsible for getting me into this to begin with :-)
I actually had a lot of fun reading it, and I am willing to try more. So who would you recommend?
So interesting to read your perspective on these sorts of novels, Ryan. An excellent review and every thought-provoking.
I’ve read a couple of m/m romances and though they are, basically, superficial in tone (as you suggested) – sometimes that’s all I’m in the mood for.
On a different level, I have read Annie Proulx’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN – not techically a romance, but close enough – and found it far from superficial. (The characters tore my heart to shreds.)
I also recommend Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner fantasy series featuring Seregil and Alex. These books are romantic fantasy set in a sort of alternate universe where wizards and magic spells abound. I’m not normally a fantasy reader, but I love these.
I know you love Brokeback Mountain and I keep meaning to read it, but haven’t found the time yet (I know, poor excuse)
I think you have mentioned the fantasy series to me before, so I will check that out as well.
Lori Strongin says
(cross posted at Wordsmithonia)
Thanks for the honest review. I’m really glad you gave a M/M written by a female author a try. While I agree that some parts of the plot felt a bit unauthentic to me, there really are some amazing female M/M authors out there who write their guys fantastically. Check out Barbara Elsborg, esp. “The Misfits,” “Cowboys Down,” and “Fight to Remember”. You won’t be disappointed!
Thanks Lori! I will have to be on the look out for those as well. I’m really liking all the suggestions everyone has.